WHAT A MOTLEY CREW!… Revelation 7

How many of you love the Book of Revelation?  Can be studied from many different angles.  Filled with controversies galore!  I remember as a student at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, my pastor had a very definite opinion on every tiny detail in this book.  He had it all figured out, possibly the only one in all of church history!  When he discovered that I had deviated from some ‘itsy-bitsy’ interpretation, he wrote to the president of the school, reporting me as an up-and-coming, dangerous heretic!  Bless his heart, Dr. William Culbertson, distinguished president, never said ‘boo’ to me about this issue or anything else!   My home pastor-friend never spoke to me again.

I can surely say(and don’t call me Shirley!) that people get a bit hot-under-the-collar about the book of Revelation.  I’m looking today at Revelation 7.  Here’s the first of two references to the 144,ooo.  Let the debate begin!  No, let it end!  I’m not going to be drawn into all the theories about who are these 144,000.  You decide for yourself.  No help here.  Well, maybe a little!

This number is a multiple of important round numbers in the Bible.  12 times 12 times 1000=144,000!  12 tribes of Israel(Old Testament saints).  12 Apostles of Jesus(New Testament saints).  1000(all the rest of us) as in millenium.  An all-inclusive gathering of God’s people.

Quite the motley crew!  Africans, Arab believers(though so few), Hispanics, Northern Europeans(though so few), Australians, Asians…and you and me!  See that list of tribes in Revelation 7?  Tribes of Israel?  Sort of.  Not the list of Jacob’s sons, for Dan is left out completely and Manasseh included(he was Joseph’s son).  Nor the list of those who inherited Canaan’s land, again Dan is left out.   Levi is included but they were to be landless priests.  Joseph is listed instead of his son Ephraim.  Reuben, the first-born, is ousted by Judah for first place.  Then the sons of  Jacob’s concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, are listed before the sons of his wives, Rachel and Leah.

What’s going on here?  Well, why was Dan excluded?  Don’t know for sure, but Dan was where Jeroboam set up a golden calf for idolatrous worship( 1 Kings 12: 29).  Could be why he’s not listed.   Whatever the reason, one’s genealogical heritage is no guarantee of heaven.  Those of the two concubines are no longer considered 2nd class citizens from the ‘other side of the tracks’.  No more Greek, no more Jew.  No male, no female.  Slave nor free.  Old barriers have collapsed.  Walls come ‘a tumbling down!

When we welcome Jesus into our lives, we become one in Him.  May not look or act alike, but the blood of Jesus covers all…equally!  Forget the theories and hobby-horses in Revelation.  Enjoy the delicate variety of God’s people!  The marvelous Church of Jesus Christ!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the varied folk in heaven.  So many, all born-again through your Son on the cross. In His name.  Amen.

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I CAN STILL FEEL THAT HORRIBLE THIRST!…Revelation 7: 16

A few years back I experienced a thirst like I had never had before.  We were on a  104-day cruise.  Having successfully escaped pirates off the coast of Somalia, we were now travelling through the Suez Canal in Egypt.  A lovely, leisurely sail up the Red Sea into the Canal.  We were to travel by bus to the Valley of the Kings, of King Tut fame.  Once the ship had docked, we boarded our buses, each one led  by a truck, escorting us and carrying armed guard.  We could see their rifles.  Felt safe.  We needed safety for this was the week before the Egyptian election that ultimately led to riots, death and chaos.  But we were safe with those armed escorts… who all gunned their motors and peeled off to go home within a couple of feet of the barbed-wire gates of the port!  Never to be seen again!  Like us… maybe?  Here today…gone today!  On our own.

The heat in the Valley of the Kings was 120 degrees.  Blistering and blazing heat.  When we got off the bus to get on tiny trams, I thought the only smart ones were the ones buried in those much cooler tombs!  Felt claustrophobic in that inferno.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, it was thirst that hit me.  A parched cardboard feeling in my mouth and throat.  I could hardly swallow.  So dry.  Had to endure it.  The water we brought from the ship was now itself almost hot.  Didn’t satisfy at all.  Not in the least.  Drank and drank and drank some more, but felt as if nothing had gone down our throats.  Strange… but that’s how it felt.

Revelation 7 pictures God’s people.  All have endured terrible trials and tribulations.  Pictured wearing white robes that become ultra-white by washing them in the ‘blood of the Lamb'(Revelation 7: 15).  Sounds like a mixed metaphor to me–made white by washing in blood?  We become clean, not by our own efforts.  The blood of Jesus, shed on the cross–it’s that which covers our sins and cleanses our lives.  Only He can do that.

Guess what will not be in heaven?  Yes, no hunger.  AND no thirst!  Hallelujah!  The scorching sun will be shaded by God Himself.  As a matter of fact, it says elsewhere in Revelation that with God present, no sun will be needed ( Revelation 22: 5).  His light will be everywhere.  Not merely for an hour on Sunday morning, but forever.  When we get there, we’ll wonder why we wanted to hang around this crazy world.  Why did we have that surgery?  Why take all those pills?  I could have gotten there sooner if I hadn’t given up smoking 30 years ago!  Only kidding!

In the meantime, we have lots to do for the Lord!  Let’s get busy.  Agreed?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the water of life you give us freely in Jesus.  In His name.   Amen.

CAN YOU GUESS WHO GETS THE LAST LAUGH?…. 2 Chronicles 30

Yes, of course!  God always gets the last laugh.  But remember, His laughter is never sadistic, relishing and enjoying the unrepentant getting their due.  However,, for those who willingly turn-their-backs on the Lord,  want nothing to do with Him, there is a last ‘laugh’ that only the Lord will have.  As it says in Psalm 2: 4–‘He who sits in the heavens laughs;  the Lord holds them in derision…’  And in Psalm 37: 12, 13–‘The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.’

This ‘laugh’ is for those who refuse anything of the Lord.   If there’s a smidgen of an urge to seek Him, a nudge toward Him, they’ll find Him merciful and forgiving.  As Peter writes–‘He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance'(2 Peter 3:9).  He wants all to be with Him.

But the unrepentant unbeliever will not have the last laugh.  In 2 Chronicles 30 we have the godly King Hezekiah reestablishing worship in Israel.  The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread will be the centerpiece of godly worship.  The King sends out couriers inviting both north and south to a great celebration at the Jerusalem Temple.  Passover will unite a divided people.

His offer to the remnant in the north is based on what he knows of God’s character–‘For if you return to the Lord…(you)will find compassion…for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him'(2 Chronicles 30:9).  Hezekiah’s God(and ours) has open hands, with a great-big heart of forgiveness and love.  The people’s reaction to this invitation?   2 Chronicles 30:10–‘So the couriers went from city to city… but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.’

Laughed out of town.  Much of Western society today laughs in the face of God, expecting that there’s no one home in the heavens.  ‘You’re such fools to believe in God’, they say.  So ‘anti-science’… ‘bigoted and hateful’.  They laugh and scorn.  Should we wither in our witness for Jesus?   2 Chronicles 30: 11–‘However some…humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.’  Some… will respond, not with scoffing ridicule, but with a change of heart.

I don’t like being laughed at.  Made to feel foolish.  But I want to obey the Lord.  Since not knowing Jesus is a dead-end street, I better find ways to share Him with others.  I think this applies to you, too!  I’m still packing Gospel tracts in my back pocket.  If only they would ALL bear good fruit.  But that’s up to someone else.  I’m doing what I can… and that’s up to me.  And the Lord will take care of the rest.  Of that,  I am sure!

Prayer: For boldness to share the Lord Jesus, we pray.  For His sake, amen.

 

THE END IN SIGHT!… Psalm 102: 23-28

I can clearly see the finish line.  It’s right over there, beyond the sunset.   But how long it will take to get there is a mystery.  Obstacles and joys on the way?  Time will tell.  Only the Lord knows for sure, and He’s very quiet about those kinds of details.

What finish line, you’re wondering?  Well, THE finish line…as when I’m finished!  Not with this devotional, but with life itself!  A lot of things remind me that the upward half of my life crawled by as if on all fours, but this downward half is picking up lots of steam as I approach the finish line.  You know what I mean?

Some hints about this can be felt with upcoming high school, college and graduate school reunions, as in the big 50th for each.  Can you believe it?  I can’t!  During the next 8 years, 50th class reunions will be held for all three.  I thought those were only for old people.  They are, you say.  And why are you pointing the finger at me!?  What events will be scheduled?  Wheelchair races?  Who came the farthest with the most prescription med’s in hand?  Who has the most facial wrinkles per square inch?  With my attitude, maybe I shouldn’t attend!  But we will.  Lord willing, wouldn’t miss them for the world.  I guess!

Psalm 102– “‘O my God’, I say, ‘take me not away in the midst of my days– you whose years endure throughout all generations!'”  My days…His years and His generations.  Isn’t that great?  Psalm 102 goes on to talk about creation folding itself up, heading ‘out of Dodge’.  Like a worn-out garment.  A robe changed later in the day.  Such will be this good earth some day.

‘The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you'(Psalm 102: 28).  We, who know the Lord, will be safe and secure, protected and at peace, enjoying His loving care forever.  Forever.  That’s a big word for a long time.  Forever and ever!  Even longer, if that were possible.

Our moment…His forever.  His forever…now ours!  As if He places His arms around us, moving us closer to Him where no one and nothing can ever harm us again.

Time may be getting short for me.  But His time with us will be never ending.  I think I’ll lean real hard on Him.  Want to join me?  There’s plenty of room!  And lots of time!

Prayer:  Father, our time may be going by quickly; but you, our God, will keep us close.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

ALL THAT SMOKE… Revelation 8: 1-5

We enjoyed worship services during our two months in England.  One of the most memorable was at Tewkesbury Abbey.  Full name was the Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin.  A former Benedictine Abbey, with one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the whole country.

Theoc, a missionary from Northumbria, first brought the Gospel to this part of England, the Midlands.  This was in the 7th century AD where he established a tiny place of worship in a gravel pit at the confluence of the Severn and Avon Rivers.  The first monastery was built in 715AD with the Abbey begun in 1102AD.  Still standing.  Still inspiring awe and wonder to our Lord Jesus Christ.

This day we witnessed a high Anglican service involving lots of pomp and circumstance.  The mixed choir of boys and girls along with adults.  Organist at the console of the 17th century Milton organ( John Milton who wrote ‘Paradise Lost’).

But it was the censer that caught my attention.  Incense was burning in a small metal container, swung on a chain, with smoke rising higher and higher with each swing of the censer-holder.  One of the four chains had a hasp that would open and close the vessel allowing incense to escape in a great puff of smoke.  All that smoke!

We could hardly see the altar.  After worship, we spoke with the censer-holder.   He mentioned that the next Sunday there would be three of them swinging censers and that no one would see anything at all!  He thought that would be thrilling.  We didn’t return!

The Book of Revelation is always quite the experience.  Seals opening…trumpets blaring…bowls pouring out wrath and judgement.   In their midst comes the opening 5 verses of chapter 8.  Jesus, the Lamb, opens that 7th seal.  Then silence in heaven for an hour and a half.  Utter silence.  Why?

Bible scholars differ like Heinz 57 varieties.  I’m going to hang my hat on one  interpretation.  This is what I think.  During this period of silence, angels carry censers like the one we saw at Tewkesbury Abbey.  Incense is rising to the throne of God.  That sweet smell is everywhere, clouds of smoke filling the air.  We learn that the incense is mixed with the prayers of God’s people.  Prayers rise to God’s attention.  He calls for silence.  Quiet.  He’s hearing our prayers.  Yours and mine.

They are so precious to Him that He broaches no interruption at all.  No disturbance.  Quiet.  He only wants to hear our prayers.  Could it be that our prayers are so  precious to Almighty God?

And could it be that prayer will be more evident in our lives knowing how much they mean to Him?  Could it be?

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for showing us once again how important we are to you.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

WHAT’S THE DELAY? …John 20: 19-29

Why does everything have to be so immediate?  Packages ordered minutes ago, dropped  on our heads from an army of drones!  First thing I should order is a ‘hard hat’!  I want it NOW!  But when we get things, we want something different.  Things don’t satisfy.  We’re not content with what we have.

The Apostle Paul writes ‘…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content'(Philippians 4:11).  He’d be laughed-out-of-town today with that advice. Bad for the economy!

There’s something about waiting that is good for us.  Getting what we want, when we want it, spoils us; leading to a lack of appreciation.  We can become manipulative.  Using people for our own devices.  Bullying, conniving, pushing and prodding to get our own way as if that will bring us happiness.

You wonder how I know so much about this!?  God has had me wait a long time for some really important things in my life.  That’s been good.  I don’t like waiting.  But to ‘wait on the Lord’ is absolutely critical.  And I’ve had to wait a long time…not so much for God to do something, but for me to grow up in Him, to be obedient.

God would be delighted to give me instant answers to my prayers, but He knows how much I need to sit at His feet, trusting that His timing is always best.  Not sitting around folding my hands, doing nothing.  That’s not me.  But what God is looking for is an inner reliance, a nod in His direction before all else.

Are you wondering what John 20 has to do with any of this?  It’s after Jesus’ resurrection. He’s appeared many times to His disciples, giving Himself forty days to reassure them before He ascends to His Father in heaven.  Forty days.  Thomas is having a hard time believing what the other’s have told him–that Jesus is alive!  He lays down the gauntlet–either I see Him with my own two eyes or all bets are off.  Verse 26 is what I’m looking at here.  ‘Eight days later…’   Eight days of waiting.

Jesus could have instantly appeared to Thomas.  He could have been dropped down on Thomas’ head by some angel-drone!   No, eight days went by.  The Lord was doing something in Thomas’ heart.  I don’t know what that was.  However, I do know that years went by with me toying with the Lord, reading the Bible hit-and-miss,  allowing the world to raise tough questions without seeking God’s Word for guidance and answers.

Took years for God to whittle those things away.  For the Bible to come front-and-center.  For me to move to the side.  I’m wondering if someone today needs to do much the same?  Do it.  Get serious with God.   You’ll never regret it.  Takes time.   Our times…in His hand.  Could we be in better hands?

Prayer:  Thank you Lord, for giving us your time and love.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

ONE VERSE TODAY!… Psalm 100

A whole psalm to read today?  It’s short, only 5 verses! To be true to the title of today’s devotional, let’s look at one verse, the fifth one– ‘For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.’   The word ‘for’ summarizes the previous four verses.  ‘Make’…’serve’…’come’…’Know’…’Enter’…’Give thanks’…Then at verse 5 we have the source of it all.  For our Lord God is good.

Full of generosity and kindness.  No pettiness with our God.  He’s good.  The Hebrew word is ‘tov’, like someone wishes you ‘mozel tov!’– ‘good luck!’.  Good luck for us is that there is absolutely no luck involved in the goodness of God.  He’s good. ‘Tov’, through and through.  It’s His character to be good to us, His children in Jesus.  Soak in His goodness today.

There’s more.   To goodness, add His steady love.  His covenant-promise to love us for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.  Like marriage vows between a man and a woman.  Love that’s more than words.  It’s backed up by actions.  His love is steady, enduring even harsh winds from His sinful people.  Lasting…when all else has disappeared.  When we are teetering and ready to collapse, His steady hand supports and keeps us standing.

Not for this moment only, but for eternity.  That’s a mighty long time!  No going-out-of-business sale with the Lord.  He’s steady, dependable, keeps His promises.  I  remember getting an award in my High School English class.  Near the end of the school year, Mr. Gordon gave out awards to each of his students.  Most very affirming… until I got mine.  Didn’t get ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ or ‘Future Farmer of America’.  I got the ‘Constancy Award’!  Was that good?  Did I need a prune shake?!   No, I was ‘steady Eddie’ to him.  He said I could be counted on.

Reliable.   Not a glamorous award.   The older I get, the more I prize people who are dependable.  So many of the church members where I serve as pastor emeritus are that, dependable and reliable.  Eager to help.  Say the word and it’s done almost before you can finish your sentence.  They all get my ‘constancy award’.

Remember that our Lord is good.  ‘Tov’!  His love is steady.   Not for today or this week alone… but forever.  To cap it all off– He’s faithful.   Loyal and dependable, not only to me and you… but to generation after generation!

Stay constant for Him…the heavenly reward will be far greater than any award you could ever get here on planet earth!

Prayer: Father, you stood by Jesus who stands by us.  In His name.  Amen.

SOME THINGS I CAN’T FORGET… 1 John chapter 1

Trauma has a way of sinking its claws into us.  Deep within our psyche, not letting go.  When it happens in infancy, you can’t verbalize what you’re going through or make any sense of it. Could be much later in life that the source becomes clear.  I love to travel.  Always have.  But at the beginning of any adventure, I suffer terrible anxieties and fears.  All at night.  In the dark.  Without reason.  I feel cut off, alone and adrift, abandoned.  Silly, isn’t it?

It is… but not to me.  Now I have some idea of where it comes from.  Started when I was two years old, having moved from the big city to the suburbs, into a different house.  And I wasn’t feeling well.  My sister said that she tried to feed me ice cream and I wouldn’t eat it.  She was alarmed!  Me…not eat?!

I had a fever.  The next day I couldn’t walk normally.  It turned out to be more than a fever.  I had contracted polio.  Off I went back to Jersey City, placed in isolation.  Then hot packs, whirlpool treatments, endless exercises.  This is where it all started.

The Apostle John says in his 1st epistle chapter 1 that Jesus is God’s light in this darkened world.  He gives light and life to us.   When we sin, as we all do, He’ll take care of all of that for us, as only He can and will.   Even my weirdness, my inability to watch an old movie that has a child rejected or abandoned, even with all my failings and frailties, yet He is my life and my light.

I look to Him, knowing that He knows all about the wounds I carry in my heart.  He will never throw salt on them.  But like the Good Samaritan, He will tend them.  He paid the price to take care of them.

Is any of this ringing true for you in your life?  That it’s time to open up, airing what bothers you.  You don’t have to tell me.  Bring it to the Lord.  It’s not like He doesn’t already know.  Stop trying to clean yourself up before coming to Him for cleansing and newness.  Put down your mask.  Knowing where those scars come from, helps.  Knowing that He carries scars too, those in His wrists and feet and side, helps me to know that Jesus understands.  I feel so much better already…

Prayer:  Lord, we look to you with our frailties and foibles.  For your love and understanding and compassion.  Thank you!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TRIPPED UP BY GOD HIMSELF!… John 18: 1-6

I’m not much for highly emotional expressions of religious zeal.  Know what I mean?  Where the pastor whips up the congregation into a frenzy of shouting, waving of hands, stomping of feet, making me uncomfortable.  But here’s an incident in the Bible that makes me wonder.

From John 18. Soldiers keep the peace, preventing a riot, along with assistance from the Temple guards(‘…officers of the chief priests and Pharisees…’v. 3).  They come to arrest Jesus.  Judas betrays his Lord,  bringing the authorities to take Him away.  John tells us that “…Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said…’whom do you seek?'”(v. 5).  They want someone named Jesus.  He tells them, without hesitation, that ‘I am he’.  Judas knows that by calling Himself  ‘I am’, Jesus is asserting His deity.  He says that He is the ‘I am’, Yahweh, of the Old Testament.  That says it all.  Not only that, but the soldiers couldn’t stand it.  Literally!  They draw back, staggering, falling to the ground.  What’s going on here?

Jesus asserts who He is.  They come for Jesus of Nazareth. ‘I’m your man’.  That’s all?   But is He?  I don’t think so.  They wouldn’t fall backwards, staggering to the ground.  They would seize Him, then and there.  More is going on here than meets the eye.

There were other instances like this in the Bible.  Ezekiel 1:28–‘…This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.  When I saw it, I fell face down…’  Daniel 10: 9–‘Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.’  Acts 22: 6-7–‘About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me.  I fell to the ground…’

These soldiers fell like human dominoes in the presence of Jesus, God in the flesh.  They came to arrest a man, but found God in their midst.  Can no longer stand on their own two feet.  In their sin, they face only soil and dirt.  Knowing how sinful we are, we must never kid ourselves thinking otherwise, for we too would fall on all fours before Holy God.

God can’t stand our sin.  That’s why Jesus came and did what He did for us.  We who are grounded in Him.  Soiled and stained by sin…now forgiven and uplifted by His strong arms and hands.  I know what it means to be brought low by my own sin.  And to be raised up by Jesus.  That’s being born-again.  That is the experience of everyone who comes to know the Savior.

Yours also?  Not tripped up by God.  Raised up…with eternal life in Jesus!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for gathering us close to you as children to a loving parent.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

LET’S CUT HIM SOME SLACK!…John 11: 1-16

You ‘doubting Thomas’!  Ever been called that?   I’m not sure I have.  We find the story of ‘doubting Thomas’ not here in John 11, but in chapter 20:24.  Thomas was a twin.   Maybe he didn’t like everyone thinking that he and his twin always thought alike, saw eye-to-eye.  Maybe he had to see it for himself.  When the disciples said that they saw the risen Lord, Thomas demurred saying that he’d never believe unless he could see and even touch Jesus.  Hence, ‘doubting Thomas’.

Know what happened?  Jesus shows Himself…to Thomas.  Alive!  And we get blessed, those who have never seen Him and yet believe.  That’s us!  I wonder if we’ve been a bit tough on Thomas, ‘the doubter’?  What about this episode here in John 11?

Lazarus has died.  Jesus delays His visit for some unknown reason.  He comes when He’s ready.  And raises Lazarus from the dead.  Thomas witnesses this miracle. Here’s a bit of context.   During the most recent Feast of Tabernacles, the religious leaders try to arrest Jesus(John 8:44).  Rumors circulate that some want to kill Him(7:25).  A crowd attempts to stone Him(8:59), while at the Hanukkah Feast they try to arrest Him(10:39), again picking up stones to kill Him(10:31).  Tensions mount.  Threats grow.  The disciples sense that the fate of their Master could be theirs as well.  Jesus told them of His coming death.  They can’t fathom it.  Too horrible to contemplate.  They block it out.

But not Thomas.  Not this time.  He says clearly, with boldness and courage–‘…Let us also go, that we may die with Him'(John 11: 16).  These are words of one who refuses to let Jesus face death alone.  These are passionate words of a true friend, a dear brother, a faithful follower.  No doubt about it!  No ‘doubting Thomas’ here.

Though he faltered some after the resurrection of Jesus(and who didn’t?), yet Thomas has been a true follower of his Lord.  We falter at times.  I have…many times and, sad-to-say, I’m probably not done yet.  Like Peter, who denied Jesus three times; and John the Baptist, from prison, questioning whether his cousin truly was the Messiah; so Thomas had his moments… of doubt and stumbling.  Yet, Jesus comes to Thomas to show him exactly what he needs to see.  And not only Thomas.  Jesus comes to us, even with all our sin,  yet with His hands of forgiveness and second…third…fourth(and then even more)chances to get up and  follow Him. Why does He keep doing that?  You know!  He loves us so much.  Of that, there’s really no doubt!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for giving us a new start after we’ve stumbled and fallen.  When our faith is weak, you draw near to us to lift us up. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.